Make no mistake; it’s an exciting time to be alive– especially if you happen to make your living as a brand designer. Opportunities for brand designers to bring value to their clients are everywhere – in every culture and in every industry category. Here are five trends that may effect our future success.
We are at the dawn of a new age in human development and progress. Ideas and innovations around the planet are compounding daily in every field of human endeavor. It’s amazing to witness in our lifetime how science is just beginning to hold a faint glimpse of understanding into the amazing power of the human mind and the mysteries surrounding the composition of the universe.
Everything that ever was, is now or ever will be is at first a thought seed in the creative mind. We are creating at a pace that is exceeding the projections of the most optimistic forecasts for innovation and human progress that were unthinkable just a decade ago. All of this amazing human output has been designed!
What kind of future will we design?
The interesting thing about making predictions on future trends is no one can say with certainty that your prediction is wrong. Looking out over the horizon, what does the future hold for today’s brand marketer and brand designer? What will the future look like? More importantly, in an era of crowd-sourced commoditized creativity, how will brand designers add new and greater value to their clients in ways that matter to them and they will pay extra for?
These are important questions to ponder if you want to have a thriving career and business in the brand consulting and design game now and into the next decade. Outlined here are five trends impacting the future of brand design.
How we work has changed forever.
In my travels, particularly in the US, I’ve had the privilege to speak to many young designers and business students ready to graduate from design schools and universities. They’re all so eager and hopeful to find their place and get their foothold in the business world. Everywhere I go, many ask me the same question ”what’s the best way to get a job”? My answer is a bit sobering– there will be limited opportunity for those seeking a predictable job. Our business no longer operates on the 20th Century model of a steady and safe day job in a branding agency or corporate design department.
We live in the global idea economy now. How we do our work and the structures under which we provide our services and value have changed forever. Today the majority of brand designers are working solo, freelance and independent. The nature of our business is ever more project-based. Technology has, at last, removed the necessity for us to physically be in one place or in proximity to our client colleagues. Virtual office structures are now commonplace. Teams of independent creative people from all over the world routinely work together on shared assignments and disband at the conclusion.
The future trend: Our profession will continue to be dominated by people who have the required entrepreneurial spirit to develop new ways to deliver value to clients while they remain free and independent to pursue opportunities that are in line with their personal goals and creative aspirations. More and more of us will work and collaborate with clients and colleagues in places of the world we may never visit. For success minded marketers and brand designers, the opportunities inherent in this trend are limitless.
There are far too many of us.
The price of all this entrepreneurial independence and freedom is there are too many of us. More and more new designers are coming into the graphic design profession every year. Unlike other design disciplines like architecture or industrial design, graphic design has a low barrier to entry. Adding to the glut, many older designers (especially in the US and UK) are staying in the game well into their 60’s, changing their views on retirement as a result of the recent economic downturn. Consequently there will be a growing slush pile of practitioners in brand design.
In many client-side marketing organizations, the “design process” has been pushed further down the value chain. Clients view most brand designers (be they consultants or in-house) as tactical implementers making marketing things that are necessary rather than seeking their counsel and advice on the more strategic aspects of value creation, brand building and management.
Clients have abundant choice when choosing brand designers. Consequently they have the power in the buying cycle. This over-abundance of supply makes for an extremely competitive environment. This will only increase in the future as our social media connected world enables clients to more effectively utilize crowd-sourced innovation.
The future trend: Brand designers will move up the value chain by becoming highly specialized experts–known for their specific expertise in a discipline, an industry, or a consumer demographic. To prosper and grow, brand designers will forsake their generalist positioning and build their reputation and business success around a narrow and deep expertise that will enable them to differentiate themselves from competitors and command premium pricing from clients who place a higher value on their specialized design expertise.
Attention spans are shrinking faster.
In our hyper-connected, digital world there is more information produced each day than was produced in the prior thousand years of human history–and it’s increasing every day at faster speed. Consequently the attention span of consumers (particularly young people) is shrinking at the same rate. In an age of endless texts and tweets, literacy suffers. The Internet is junk food for the mind. The more information created, the less attention is available.
Consumers are now surrounded and protected by a sea of white noise. The tactics of simply decorating outbound marketing are over. No one is listening and nobody cares. Brand marketers and designers are no longer in the communications business but rather in the engagement business. To engage consumers, one must connect with them where their memories are created–at a deep emotional level. In the end, it’s not facts people remember but feelings.
The future trend: Brand design and management will require practitioners (client marketers and designer alike) to be meta-focused on designing real and useful experiences people love–with greater sensitivity and responsibility to the environment and the social well being of those who are served in the marketplace. To remain relevant, brands must be trustworthy ambassadors of social good and the shared values of the tribes they serve.
Clients value outcomes not deliverables.
What bonds clients and brand designers together in a relationship is change. Transforming the client’s undesirable circumstance into a desired one is why we get hired. Clients value business outcomes.
Clients value the achievement of their business objectives more than they value the technical outputs of brand designers. Designers tend to place greater value their “process” and their “craft”. Unfortunately, for as much as we strive to master the craft of design, craft is the ante. Clients seeking design craft now find it readily available on ubiquitous design-competition and crowd-sourced web sites at cheap prices.
The future trend: Reshaping the designer/client relationship will require brand designers to bring more useful and rigorous consumer insights that impact the very nature of how their clients bring value to their customers. The good news is brand designers will be seated at the big table. The more difficult future trend will see brand design and management focused on real business outcomes rather than producing more logos, taglines, style and decoration. And clients will increase their demand for designers to prove the value of their ideas by constantly measuring their return on investment.
Consumers value authentic cultural diversity in brand expression.
Globalization was once thought to be an “equalizer” opening markets and bringing more capital to developing countries to produce goods for other countries. But the reality has proven to be something quite different. Globalization has brought new levels of intense competition among nations.
It’s no longer about countries like China and India making products that other companies slap their brand on, but rather these countries are now making products the world demands simply because they are from an authentic region. Consumers the world over value authenticity in the brands they favor. For example, no one wants to buy Ferraris or wear Armani if those brands are not made in Italy.
The future trend: Brand design and management will continue moving away from the homogenous western (US and UK) stylizations of corporate and brand identity so emulated in the past. The work of brand designers will reflect authentic cultural reference points unique to their various regions of the globe. Designers are celebrating the cultural styles of their regions and this is moving the discipline of brand building to new levels of diverse cultural expression. This trend is already firmly in place in China, India, Eastern Europe, and many South American countries.
Designing a bigger, better future.
Creating a bigger better future is at the very heart of design and this fuels the inner passion of designers to innovate new solutions for their clients.
Like the fire keepers in the age of prehistoric man, designers will continue to be the visualizers of the future. We are the agents of change bringing order from chaos, understanding from ignorance, simplicity from complexity. That’s not changing. Nor is the required success mindset so necessary for the creative imagination to innovate a brighter future.
For the most part, designers are an optimistic lot. Designers have a special gift at seeing better things for people way ahead of the status quo. Designers are possibility thinkers asking the “what-if” questions that drive innovation in our human development as well as the global marketplace. That won’t be changing either.
Regardless of the economy and global circumstances we find ourselves in, there is always going to be a demand to design a vision for a bigger, better future. Designers will be at the epicenter of this activity leading the way forward.